Christopher Norris: The Purge Isn’t Just a Movie When You’re Unarmed and Black


The frequent killing of unarmed black people by police is being labeled “the purge.”

For the majority of unarmed black folks who everyday attend work, school and/or church, “the purge” isn’t a multi-million dollar film starring a white man with killer looks; it’s a reality show, and the white man with the gun is killing them for their looks.

For the majority of unarmed black folks who everyday warn their young of the unspoken code of the police — shoot first, ask questions never — “the purge” isn’t a growing franchise with limited engagement in theaters; it’s a never-ending broadcast of brutality, a motherf*cking marathon of unjust murders. For the majority of unarmed black folks who everyday pray that the police riding past aren’t going to stop-and-frisk them for sport, “the purge” is real, not a horror thriller that grossed more than $95 million at the box office.

The unchecked power of the American police is the greatest threat to our society, and before our very eyes it’s purging the country of black faces that are guilty of existing in a white man’s world. The reality is that unarmed black folks are patriotic — 25 percent of black men in America are already military veterans. And they are enterprising: The percentage of blacks who create business is twice the national average, and 60 percent of those entrepreneurs are black men. And they are also charitable: Black households give 25 percent more of their income to charities than do white households.

Despite these facts, unarmed black people everyday are depicted in the media as thugs, criminals and impoverished brutes, which makes it justifiable for police to replace the oath of “protect and serve” with “brutalize and bury.”

For the majority of unarmed black folks who everyday fear for their lives, despite them doing nothing wrong, my advice to you is stop leaving the house unarmed. Arm yourself with knowledge of the system, civics and politics and demand legislation that addresses “the purge,” like a zero-tolerance law for officers who shoot and/or kill unarmed civilians — regardless of their race.

Arm yourself with the bravery and boldness to fight what seems to be an insurmountable opponent. And lastly, arm yourself with vigilance, strategy and force. “The purge” is real, and it’s an American tradition.

Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™

(Source: The Huffington Post)

Black TV Producer, Charles Belk, Arrested By Beverly Hills Cops Who Thought He Robbed A Bank


As the nation continues to grapple with police discrimination in America, a number of incidents are now surfacing more than ever thanks to the power of social media.

One recent encounter took place in Beverly Hills Friday, Aug. 22, during Emmy Award weekend between local authorities and television producer Charles Belk who said police arrested him as he was walking from a restaurant where they reportedly accused him of “armed bank robbery and accessory to robbery of a Citibank.”

Belk penned a post on Facebook describing the “life altering experience,” saying his only crime was fitting the description of a “tall, bald head, black male.”


It’s one of those things that you hear about, but never think it would happen to you.

On Friday afternoon, August 22nd around 5:20pm, while innocently walking by myself from a restaurant on Wilshire Blvd, to my car up LaCienega Blvd my freedom was taken from me by the Beverly Hills Police Department.

Within seconds, I was detained and told to sit on the curb of the very busy street, during rush hour traffic.

Within minutes, I was surrounded by 6 police cars, handcuffed very tightly, fully searched for weapons, and placed back on the curb.

Within an hour, I was transported to the Beverly Hills Police Headquarters, photographed, finger printed and put under a $100,000 bail and accused of armed bank robbery and accessory to robbery of a Citibank.

Within an evening, I was wrongly arrested, locked up, denied a phone call, denied explanation of charges against me, denied ever being read my rights, denied being able to speak to my lawyer for a lengthy time, and denied being told that my car had been impounded…..All because I was mis-indentified as the wrong “tall, bald head, black male,” … “fitting the description.”

I get that the Beverly Hills Police Department didn’t know at the time that I was a law abiding citizen of the community and that in my 51 years of existence, had never been handcuffed or arrested for any reason. All they saw, was someone fitting the description. Doesn’t matter if he’s a “Taye Diggs BLACK”, a “LL Cool J BLACK”, or “a Drake BLACK”

Beverly Hills Police Department sent The Huffington Post a statement regarding Belk’s arrest:

Beverly Hills Police on Friday arrested 47-year-old Brianna Clemons Kloutse of Los Angeles immediately following an armed robbery at a bank in the 8400 block of Wilshire Boulevard. Police believe that Kloutse is the “Purse Packing Bandit,” responsible for nine recent bank robberies and two attempted bank robberies in Los Angeles, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. She will be arraigned today at the criminal court building in downtown Los Angeles.

Witnesses to the robbery said the female robber was most likely working with a man who was distracting the other bank employees while the robbery was carried out. Within minutes of the robbery call being broadcast, police detained a subject less than a block away from the robbery who closely matched the clothing and physical characteristics of the male suspect. After an eye witness positively identified the subject in a field show-up, police arrested Charles Belk for suspicion of robbery. A follow-up investigation by detectives ultimately determined that Mr. Belk was not involved in the robbery and he was released from custody without charges.

The Beverly Hills Police Department deeply regrets the inconvenience to Mr. Belk and has reached out to him to express those regrets and further explain the circumstances. However, based on witness accounts, and his location close to the bank, officers properly detained and arrested him based on the totality of the circumstances known at the time of the field investigation.

The Police Department protocol requires that they go through the process of thoroughly verifying that Mr. Belk was not the suspect before releasing him. That process included taking witness statements, coordination with the FBI and Los Angeles Police detectives who were investigating the earlier bank robberies, and examination of the surveillance video from the bank. Police are still searching for the second suspect.

Read more of Charles Belk’s Facebook post on his arrest here.

(Source: The Huffington Post)

Walmart security guard shoots ‘shoplifting’ mother dead in parking lot as she tries to escape with two young children

A 27-year-old mother of two has been fatally shot by an off-duty sheriff’s deputy after he suspected her of shoplifting at a Houston Walmart.

Harris County Sheriff’s deputies have said that victim Shelly Frey, Tisa Andrews and Yolanda Craig  were stealing when they were confronted by Louis Campbell a 26-year veteran of the force who works as a security guard at the store.

According to Campbell the women ran to their car and when he rushed to open the door, they accelerated away - at which point he fired the deadly shot into the car which hit Frey in the neck.

Andrews began to drive away while the deputy was standing between the open door and the driver’s seat.

'She threw it in reverse and tried to run over the deputy,' said Harris County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Deputy Thomas Gilliland.

'He confronted the suspects at exit of the store before they left. One female wouldn't stop, struck the deputy with her purse, ran off.'

'I think it knocked him off balance and, in fear of his life and being ran over, he discharged his weapon at that point.'

Tiasa Andrews, Yolanda Craig were arrested at 1300 block of Greens Parkway where their friend Shelly Frey had died from her gunshot wounds

Tiasa Andrews, Yolanda Craig were arrested at 1300 block of Greens Parkway where their friend Shelly Frey had died from her gunshot wounds

The Walmart store at 14000 block of the North Freeway in Houston where the alleged robbery occurred

The Walmart store at 14000 block of the North Freeway in Houston where the alleged robbery occurred

Inside the car as it was speeding away were two small children - investigators have said that they were not Frey’s children.

Gilliland said it was clear that the deputy was law enforcement.

'He was clearly marked in uniform as a Harris County deputy. And identified himself as the suspects were leaving the establishment,' said Gilliland to KHOU.Com

Despite the shooting, the women fled but eventually they stopped at The Worthington at the Beltway apartments in the 1300 block of Greens Parkway.

Paramedics from the Houston Fire Department arrived to try and save Frey, but she was pronounced dead at the scene.

'Shelly was the perfect mom, perfect friend, perfect daughter,' said her father, Shelton Frey.

He said that his daughter had moved to Houston after Hurricane Katrina to start a new life, but the amount of work she could do was limited by her two-year-old who has sickle cell anemia.

The deceased's mother Sharon Wilkerson was devastated that the deputy fired into a car with two small children inside
The deceased's mother Sharon Wilkerson was devastated that the deputy fired into a car with two small children inside

The deceased’s mother Sharon Wilkerson was devastated that the deputy fired into a car with two small children inside and killed her daughter

'Why couldn’t you just shoot the tire, shoot the window?' said her mother Sharon Wilkerson. 'Was it that serious?'

She added that even if her daughter had committed a crime, she did not deserve to die and she worries now for her two young grandchildren.

'How do I tell these children she's not coming back,' said Sharon.

'To me, it should never (have) happened. I wish the officer didn’t shoot her. I wish he shot her tires just to slow her down. That’s a mother you know. And now they have to figure out what to do with the kids,' said Angel Gaines, a neighbor.

Kesha Sapp, a woman who knew Frey, agreed.

'What that look like with him shooting with the darn kids in the car? There were kids in the car with them. Why is he shooting at the car? Come on now, that makes him look bad. That don’t even look right,' said Sapp.

Both Andrews and Craig, the two other women allegedly involved, have been charged with shoplifting.

Tragically, Frey wasn’t even supposed to be at a Walmart that evening.

Earlier in the year she pleaded guilty to stealing shirts and a package of meat from another Walmart and as part of her plea arrangement she agreed to never enter Walmart stores again.

Deputy Campbell is on three days paid leave as is standard protocol. He’s been with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office for 26 years. 

The Harris County Sheriff’s Homicide Unit, Office of the Inspector General and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office will investigate this incident. The case will be turned over to a grand jury. 

Walmart offered the following statement: ‘This is a tragic situation and we recognize this is a difficult time for all parties involved. We’re committed to working with law enforcement and providing any information we have as they determine the facts of the case. Because this is an active investigation, any specific details of the incident should come from law enforcement.

'We hire off duty officers to provide security to some of our stores. While we have policies in place for our associates to disengage from situations that might put them or others in harm's way, off-duty officers working at a WM store are authorized to act in accordance with their department's code of conduct.'

(Source: The Huffington Post)

Teens Have Greater Fear of Police After Ferguson Shooting

As the fiery protests that erupted in Ferguson, Mo., after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teen by a white police officer appeared to be on the wane, several St. Louis-area young people reflected on the incident and talked about lessons learned.

While many were demoralized and saddened by the shooting of Michael Brown, 18, by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, they said it came as no surprise. For years, they said, police have had an adversarial relationship with blacks, especially young men.

Indeed, racial parity, or lack thereof, on the police force seems to be the crux of the problem. Ferguson, a suburb on the northern outskirts of St. Louis, is 60 percent black, yet virtually all police officers are white. The raw numbers are even more telling: Only three of Ferguson’s 53 officers are black. Not only that, but the police chief and mayor are white, just one City Council member is black and only one school board member is black.

Three young black men and a teacher at Lift for Life Academy, St. Louis’ first independent charter school, spoke with The Root about aggressive police tactics by white officers in the black community.

Jarrett Cross, 18

Jarrett Cross_Ferguson Teen
Jarrett Cross 


The high school senior, who moved to Ferguson two years ago with his family, says he hopes to attend Southeast Missouri State University next fall. And to ensure that he gets there, Cross plans to steer clear of the police. Brown was gunned down the weekend before he was to start trade school. Cross said he went to observe the protests, but didn’t partake in them, saying he wanted to show support in a peaceful way.

“The biggest thing is not about unemployment,” the teen, who works part-time at the St. Louis Zoo on weekends, told The Root during a telephone interview. “It’s more about how police treat people. As a citizen of Ferguson, they are not nice. They are very mean.”

To illustrate his point, he recounted how one day this summer he was bumping popular rapper A$AP Rocky’s hit “Peso” in his 1999 Chrysler LHS while filling up his tank. Suddenly, an officer yelled at him to turn it down, in a confrontational manner that could have escalated quickly, he recalled.

“He started yelling and cursing at me, saying he was gonna give me a $500 ticket,” Cross said. “He was just a spot over from me. All he had to do was ask me to turn it down. I felt very threatened and did what he asked me to do.

“As a young African-American male, I’m afraid of the police,” he continued. “It’s bad enough to worry about other people, now I have to worry about danger from the very people trying to protect me. To be honest, I just do not go outside when I don’t have to and have learned to steer clear of trouble. It’s just not safe anywhere.”

Cameron Cornelius, 17

Cameron Cornelius_Ferguson Teen
Cameron Cornelius 


The 17-year-old high school senior, who lives in Downtown St. Louis, told The Root that he didn’t participate in the protests, but stopped by to show support. He, too, expressed extreme fear of the police, which was heightened by Brown’s shooting and the law-enforcement presence at the protest scene.

“The police don’t seem like they’re trying to protect us,” he said. “It seems like they are out to murder people. To be safe, I just stay as far away from them. I hear about police killing more unarmed black men more and more every day. I just try not to put myself in a bad situation so I don’t have to depend on them for anything.”

While sagging pants and gold teeth are not his style of dress, he believes that the police unfairly target young black men who do choose to dress that way.

“I don’t think the problem is sagging as much as it is about perception,” he said. “Some of the guys who do dress that way aren’t thugs. Besides, hip-hop artists like Lil’ Wayne and 2 Chainz went to college. So it’s a matter of style and taste” as opposed to gang attire.

Sederick Lindsay, 17

Sederick Lindsay 


Sederick, a St. Louis high school senior who is still sorting through colleges, said he attended protests after the first week to show support, but did not march.

“I saw a bunch of people, not just blacks, but multiracial people,” he told The Root. “It was cool. People were chanting. We were sharing our feelings about what was going on. A lot of us were upset about police using deadly force. They are trained to use other tactics other than pulling the gun on their sides. They should think before they act. They haven’t been doing that.”

On the other hand, he was more forgiving than most about the heavy law-enforcement presence. “First I thought it was overkill,” he said. “But then the late-night protesters began looting. It was needed to calm things down.” And Friday, it was revealed that a majority of the people arrested during the weekslong protests were not from Ferguson.

“It surprised me that people arrested were not from Ferguson,” he said. “Why get arrested and destroy some place you don’t live? You have to think about the city because people still have to live there.

“If the protests continue, I would like them to continue peacefully because it’s an important issue that needs attention and we need justice to be served,” he continued. “Being a young black male myself, I should be cautious of police and of the people around me. You never know what’s going on in people’s heads or what they have going on in their lives. Officers could be on edge and attack me, or someone around me might have issues that could come back on me. During the protests, I excluded myself from the violent part, arguing and yelling with police. I’m not that kind of person. What I’ve learned from all of this is to keep it 100 (real).”

Demetrius Upchurch, 31, Eighth-Grade Teacher

Demetrius Upchurch and 4-year-old son, Aiden, in Ferguson, Mo.


For his part, Upchurch, who lives in nearby Pine Lawn, Mo., said he has been working with his students and 4-year-old son, Aiden, to instruct them on how to conduct themselves around police.

“There is an anti-black-youth sentiment among the police,” he told The Root earlier this week as he walked to the shooting site at the Canfield Gardens complex in Ferguson. He said he took his son to the scene to show him why he could not go to school. Area schools were shut down in the area to prevent students from being hurt as they walked to and from school as protesters and police squared off.

“The protest was a culmination of anger about the marginalization of black youth,” Upchurch said. “I really think there needs to be more getting the youth together, really hearing what it is that they need, what it is that they feel and allowing a leader to emerge amongst them and really mentoring and cultivating that agency. That is how real change is going to happen.”

Hey, White College Kids: Can the Ferguson Police Get Some of That Kony 2012 Outrage?

The passion of white youths across the country for arresting Joseph Kony, but not the officer who killed unarmed teen Michael Brown, tells us a lot about race in America. 


Remember #Kony2012? Of course you do. The social media campaign by Invisible Children against the war criminal leader of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army is impossible to forget because of the way so many Americans—including many white Americans—came together and amplified the cause in the name of justice and human rights.

Invisible Children’s video was viewed 100 million times within six days. In a showing bigger even than the one for the ongoing “ice bucket challenge” for Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, 3.7 million people committed to joining the Kony 2012 struggle. While ultimately unsuccessful in its stated goals of “ending war,” or “stopping the LRA and their leader,” #Kony2012 was effective in galvanizing deep support from white youth throughout the nation.

So, why not #FergusonPD2014?

In other words, why aren’t the same people who called out Joseph Kony demanding accountability from the Ferguson Police Department for its killing of Michael Brown when he was unarmed, and for its violation of peaceful protesters’ constitutional rights to assemble? Yes, it’s true that people of all backgrounds, including some young white activists, are actively involved in the protests in Ferguson. But why aren’t white college students latching on to this and revealing the same overwhelming “commitment” they did to the Kony “cause”?

As a college professor, I remember clearly that during the #Kony2012 campaign, they wanted the world to know that they were outraged by the atrocities going on in Uganda, or at least the atrocities said to be going on at some point in recent history. Why not a similar response to the atrocities going on outside St. Louis?

Because, sadly, this American tragedy doesn’t seem to have the right ingredients.

Besides using social media wisely, Invisible Children deployed a narrative of good versus evil and created enthusiasm around the power of young people in stopping a man intent on turning young men into soldiers and young women into sex slaves. With a click of a button that led the video to be shared on social media, a donation, or putting on some Kony apparel, one could seemingly purchase penance for past inaction and buy peace. 

Second, the video and the campaign played upon the long-standing concept of the “white man’s burden” —the idea that white America has a responsibility and a duty to help oppressed elsewhere.

Third, the primary platform of the campaign limited the chance of cross-racial challenges. Facebook, marked by its insular communities, segregation and siloed realities, was the central engine for Kony 2012. This, and the nascent status of “black Twitter,” created conditions under which the “white savior” mentality thrived. While white Americans who participated in Kony 2012 were purchasing a tool kit or contributing to “justice” with their clicks and dollars, they didn’t have to inconvenience or challenge their privilege or identity. 

Movements to address injustice when the victims are African American don’t have the same formula. So it’s no wonder that since 2012, there has not been a #Trayvon2013, a movement for #Renisha2013 or a #Ferguson2014. It’s no wonder there have been no viral videos on #Every28HoursABlackManIsKilled, or mainstream efforts to galvanize national attention for Eric Garner or Marissa Alexander or countless others.

Can We Talk About How Black Women Are Treated as Threats, Too?

We tend to focus on the consequences of stereotypes about men, but black women are victims of racialized violence as well. Understanding this is a matter of life and death.


Like The Root’Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele, who recently penned the essay “Michael Brown’s Death Reopened My Eyes to My Privileges as a Black Woman,” I understand that, as a woman, I behave differently in public spaces than the black men I know and love. Actually, as an activist who has been involved in various rallies against police violence and “cop watches” in my community, I even have a habit of “mouthing off” to police officers when I know they are behaving in ways that are inappropriate and sometimes illegal.

But as I witness the national response to Michael Brown’s slaying, and how the citizens of Ferguson, Mo., are being terrorized by a militarized police force, I am forced to take a long, hard look at my behaviors and how dangerous they are. The truth is that, although cases of state and racialized violence against black women may happen less frequently than with black men, black women are still constantly perceived as threats by law enforcement and others, and must begin behaving with that awareness.

It’s no wonder that I’m just now coming to terms with this. The message that men are the only ones in danger when it comes to racialized violence is a strong one.

My mother’s conversations with me regarding how to be safe in the world generally centered on my femaleness—how to carry myself to ward off sexual harassment and assault, and which men to trust and which men not to. They were starkly different conversations from those she had with my brother.

She never spoke to me about how the sheer presence of my black skin might cause me to be beaten mercilessly by a highway patrolman; that knocking on a stranger’s door for help might mean himshooting me in the face; that being involved with a man whom police suspect of criminal activity might mean my home being raided, my infant child being injured and me being killed; that my female children aren’t safe from police violence; that, even at the age of 92, I could still suffer death at the hands of the police. My mother, although unintentionally, made a serious parenting mistake.

As I raise my own daughter, I realize that I can’t make the errors my mother did. I have to teach her, as I would teach my son, that the police and random strangers may mean her more harm than good, that she has to be alert and mindful of the way her black body moves. 

To aid in teaching her these lessons, I’d like to see more media coverage of cases where black women are injured and murdered by random homeowners and those sworn to serve and protect. I’d like to take her to a rally against police brutality that includes the names of women like Rekia Boyd,Raven Dozier and Ersula Ore. I want her to see herself—hell, I want to see myself—in these fights against violent, institutionalized racism. And I wonder why this isn’t happening already.

As I attended a local #NMOS14 rally commemorating Mike Brown’s death, and the names of victims of police violence were called out, I noticed quickly that none of the girls’ and women’s names I mentioned above were spoken. As Rutgers University professor of women’s and gender studies and Africana studies Brittney Cooper said in a Huffington Post Live segment on the topic, “We have a narrative when [a slaying like Trayvon Martin’s] happens to young black men … it’s lynching. They’re lynching us. They’re doing the thing that they’ve always done. But we don’t acknowledge that black women were lynched, too, and that black women have these violent encounters with white folks, too.” Cooper also noted that attention and advocacy surrounding violence against black women are almost entirely focused on rape.

Why is this? Rutgers University professor of journalism and media studies Khadijah White suggests, “In a nation literally built for white men, whiteness and maleness becomes a neutral identity. Compounding it (with sexuality, with gender, with disability, etc.) becomes too complex for quick and easy storytelling. So black women sit at the margins of both black and female identities, never really encapsulating the way we think about either one [but bearing the brunt of the societal effects of each].”

Another piece of the problem, she says, is what she calls the “routinization of violence against women, and the cultural blind spot regarding violence against women of color.”

David J. Leonard, professor of critical culture, gender and race studies at Washington State University in Pullman, offers even more insight concerning what some may consider the erasure of black women from the narrative of racialized violence against blacks. He asserts that mainstream media is invested in presenting the “so-called criminality and pathology of black communities,” and also blames “the presumption of black guilt and a desire to exonerate society, whiteness and the criminal justice system.”

Of course, when stories of black female victims go underreported, lesser outcries for justice result and fewer actions take place on their behalf. But what may be more damaging and dangerous, if we don’t put a spotlight on racialized violence against black women, is that they won’t enter public spaces with the caution that may be necessary to save their lives. Black women’s lives matter as much as black men’s, and black women are equally deserving of the truth about the dangers they face. We are in this together not only as protesters against what MGMX calls the extrajudicial killings of black people but also as victims of that violence.

You Don’t Have the Right to Remain Silent

On Monday, in a case called Salinas v. Texas that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves, the Supreme Court held that you remain silent at your peril. The court said that this is true even before you’re arrested, when the police are just informally asking questions. The court’s move to cut off the right to remain silent is wrong and also dangerous—because it encourages the kind of high-pressure questioning that can elicit false confessions.

Here are the facts from Salinas: Two brothers were shot at home in Houston. There were no witnesses—only shotgun shell casings left at the scene. Genovevo Salinas had been at a party at that house the night before the shooting, and police invited him down to the station, where they talked for an hour. They did not arrest him or read him his Mirandawarnings.  Salinas agreed to give the police his shotgun for testing. Then the cops asked whether the gun would match the shells from the scene of the murder. According to the police, Salinas stopped talking, shuffled his feet, bit his lip, and started to tighten up.

At trial, Salinas did not testify, but prosecutors described his reportedly uncomfortable reaction to the question about his shotgun. Salinas argued this violated his Fifth Amendment rights: He had remained silent, and the Supreme Court had previously made clear that prosecutors can’t bring up a defendant’s refusal to answer the state’s questions. This time around, however, Justice Samuel Alito blithely responded that Salinas was “free to leave” and did not assert his right to remain silent. He was silent. But somehow, without a lawyer, and without being told his rights, he should have affirmatively “invoked” his right to not answer questions. Two other justices signed on to Alito’s opinion. Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Antonin Scalia joined the judgment, but for a different reason; they think Salinas had no rights at all to invoke before his arrest (they also object to Miranda itself). The upshot is another terrible Roberts Court ruling on confessions. In 2010 the court held that a suspect did not sufficiently invoke the right to remain silent when he stubbornly refused to talk, after receiving his Miranda warnings, during two hours of questioning. Now people have to somehow invoke the right to remain silent even when they’re not formal suspects and they haven’t been heard the Mirandawarnings. As Orin Kerr points out on the Volokh Conspiracy, this just isn’t realistic.

The court’s ruling in Salinas is all the more troubling because during such informal, undocumented, and unregulated questioning, there are special dangers that police may, intentionally or not, coax false confessions from innocent suspects. I have spent years studying cases of people exonerated by DNA testing. A large group of those innocent people falsely confessed—and many supposedly admitted their guilt even before any formal interrogation.  Take the case of Nicholas Yarris, who was exonerated by DNA testing in 2003, after 20 years in prison. He had been convicted and sentenced to death in Pennsylvania for the murder of a woman found raped, beaten, and stabbed near her abandoned Chrysler Cordoba. 

When informally questioned, police said, Yarris volunteered that he knew the victim had been raped, and that the victim’s Chrysler had a brown “landau” roof (a vinyl fake convertible look). That was a striking detail, especially since the police had kept it out of the press. No tape was made of the interrogation. The police didn’t even produce notes. And now that DNA has cleared Yarris, we know his confession was false, and that he must not have volunteered the fact about the car roof at all.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Salinas encourages the kind of loosey-goosey, and easily contaminated, police questioning that led to Yarris’ wrongful conviction. Salinas may very well have been guilty of the two murders. But in many cases, as in this one, there are no eyewitnesses and not much other evidence of guilt: That is why the police may desperately need a confession. And that makes it crucial for them to handle interrogations and confessions with the utmost care. The court appreciated none of the pressures police face, and how they can squeeze an innocent suspect. Alito and the other conservatives werenot troubled that there was no video to confirm that Salinas was in fact uncomfortable as well as silent. If Salinas had answered the question by exclaiming that he was innocent, could police have reported that he sounded desperate and like a liar? The court’s new ruling puts the “defendant in an impossible predicament. He must either answer the question or remain silent,” Justice Stephen Breyer said in dissent (joined by the other three liberal-moderates). “If he answers the question, he may well reveal, for example, prejudicial facts, disreputable associates, or suspicious circumstances—even if he is innocent.” But if he doesn’t answer, at trial, police and prosecutors can now take advantage of his silence, or perhaps even of just pausing or fidgeting.

Questions first, rights later is the approach the court’s majority now endorses. And by giving the police more incentive to ask questions informally, the new ruling will also undermine the key reform that police have adopted to prevent false confessions: videotaping entire interrogations.  Why not try to trap a suspect before the camera starts rolling? In only a few cases like Yarris’ will there be DNA to test. The likely result of the court’s embrace of shoddy interrogation tactics: more wrongful convictions.

Brandon L. Garrett is a professor of law at the University of Virginia School of Law who studies criminal procedure, civil rights, and wrongful convictions. His new book, Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong, was published by Harvard University Press.

From Ferguson, MO to Austin, TX, we are one.

We’re standing with you all the way from Texas.

Peace and Blessing!

To be Black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.
James Baldwin